Carnal Acts
PublisherArcadia Books
Date Published15 June 2014
Price£ 11.99

Carnal Acts

by Sam Alexander

DI Joni Pax faces anything but a quiet life when she moves from the Met to Northumberland and is confronted by vicious Albanian gangs.


I finished this book feeling as wrung-out as a damp dishrag – and with no more idea than when I’d started it who Sam Alexander is.

Martyn Waites was my first guess, based on setting and general grittiness. Then I went for John Harvey and Chris Simms. All wrong. Of course it may be a she Sam and not a he Sam, but something made me think the writer’s a bloke. I did wonder if the old howler of using WPC gave us a clue to the writer’s generation – but there are young writers around trotting it out! And while we’re on the subject of the long-gone, there haven’t been dog licences in the UK since the late 1980s.

DI Joni Pax has moved up to Northumberland after being badly injured in a job that went wrong for the Met. She’s working with DCI Hector ‘Heck’ Rutherford, a cop with a good reputation, but who is struggling to get back to work after stomach cancer.

Her new patch of Corham is an odd one – it encompasses posh stately homes, farms and blighted urban landscape. And it’s being threatened by the encroaching of vicious Albanian gangs who show they will stop at nothing after a murder takes place in a brothel. You may not be so keen on visits to stately homes or rural walks once you’ve read Carnal Acts!

Joni is an intriguing lead character. She’s mixed race from a Hackney council estate, Oxford-educated and possessed of a left-field brain. And of course she’s the archetypal outsider. But she’s persistent and she gets results. She’s also a good foil to Heck, the rugby-playing local boy who worries that his thief-taking days may be over.

There’s a strong supporting cast, including a mysterious ex-soldier, a feisty teenage girl with the parents from hell, and a kidnapped woman who intends to die with her boots on, so to speak. The only character who didn’t really convince me was Joni’s hippy mother, who seemed an unlikely quirk too far.

As the title suggests, Carnal Acts is heavy on sex and there’s also a hefty dose of violence. This is noir inked in hard, but the book stays on the digestible side of stomach-churning. It’s a topical tale, told briskly with punch and energy – once I was up and running with it, I couldn’t put it down. And it features two distinctive characters who would certainly have a great deal to offer as series regulars.

PS: So it turned out to be Scottish writer Paul Johnston. Ah well, it’s been stacks of fun on Twitter watching people’s suggestions (to whoever thought it might be Jeffrey Archer – you may need to read more widely!).

Reviewed 12 July 2014 by Sharon Wheeler